March 31, 2020 Subject:
Too Confederate by Half
The long, sad face of John Hood, like a medieval saint in a stained-glass window, does not appear to reflect anything of the bold, dashing Confederate spirit which he so famously embodied. But nobody ever doubted his raw enthusiasm for a good fight - the over-riding reason for his unexpected promotion to command of the Army of Tennessee.
The man he replaced, Joseph E. Johnston, had finally exhausted the patience of Jefferson Davis, a general manqué who had been kicked upstairs to president of the Confederacy, and who could not bear to watch this endless retreat by a commander with whom he had feuded continuously, and was clearly just about to surrender Atlanta.
Even then, Hood hadn’t been first choice. Davis had favoured William Hardee, but Hood was recommended by Davis’ old friend Braxton Bragg, who had feuded with Hardee, who went on to feud with Hood… Sometimes it looked as though the Confederate generals hated each other more than the enemy.
One dubious but quasi-soldierlike talent Hood and Johnston did share: a gift for deflecting blame, and both their memoirs reek of it. Johnston tries to claim that he was deliberately slowing-down his campaign, so the North would become war-weary and vote Lincoln out in the upcoming election. But his endless letters to Davis (two or three a day) do not confirm any of this - just a constant demand for more men, especially cavalry. Hood’s own book is full of ‘What if’s’, a rather weak device for excusing a record of glaring failure in the top job, for which history judges him to have been out of his depth.
Interesting to eavesdrop briefly on a couple of conversations that Hood conducted in private with two of the war’s most controversial figures. Apparently at Gettysburg, James Longstreet confided to him that he had in fact been ordered to attack at dawn (as he denied furiously for the rest of his life), but delayed till the afternoon because he was waiting for George Pickett’s division. And in the Shenandoah, Stonewall Jackson mournfully predicted that he would not live to see the end of the war, and didn’t want to either.